The longer one lives in a particular place, the more one gets to know its ins and outs and everything betweens. And that’s how it felt as My Guy and I wandered some trails at Bridgton Historical Society’s Narramissic Farm and Loon Echo Land Trust’s Peabody Fitch Woods this afternoon.
He, of course, took a coyote for a walk, trying to stay on top of the snow without post-holing, for such are the conditions. I’m not one hundred percent sure he knew he was walking beside a coyote, but together we did note snowshoe hare, fox, bobcat, and mink tracks. Oh, and a few deer as well.
We had passed by the house, this photo from 2018 when the beautiful Witch Hazel still graced the corner. It looked the same today, except that someone thought it would be wise to chop down that shrub. Drats.
The Temperance Barn that wasn’t really a temperance barn also looked the same, except that again, the shrubs on the right have disappeared. You can read about the embellished name here: Stories from the Eye of the Barn.
And the Blacksmith Shop now sports an update, including a new back wall. But the buildings weren’t the central focus of my train of thoughts as we wandered. Instead, I let my mind wander as well. Back to days of yore.
This is a place where I know not only the history, but also to search for Pussy Willows breaking bud along the long driveway,
Black Walnut’s monkey-faced leaf scar,
which provides a contrast to Shagbark Hickory’s heart-shaped leaf scar . . .
and bulbous, hairy Shagbark Hickory buds.
And once in a blue moon, on a bluebird kind of day, I get to meet . . . a Bluebird!
As spring turns toward summer, I’ll look along the driveway for another feathered friend, a House Wren.
And then it will be through the field that I’ll move as I make my way toward the Quarry Loop, and it is here that I’ll spot Purple Milkwort showing off its tiny, intricate flowers.
Upon the fence post at a trail intersection, I’ll spy something equally intricate, or at least I will if my luck holds true . . . this being a Sedge Darner Dragonfly.
And as I return to the field, I might just be surprised by a Katydid katydiddying.
As summer turns to autumn, I’ll be on the lookout for a growing Porcupette headed toward an oak tree in search of acorns.
And where the Thistle grows, just maybe the bumbler and I will meet again.
Looking for grasshopper molts will also be part of my mission.
And no fern fronds of what I believe to be Appalachian Polypody rather than Common, will go unturned, for one never knows when the sori (clusters of spore cases or sporangia) will be present. I don’t know why, but they always bring a smile to my face.
It is this place. Narramissic Farm, that draws me throughout the year and each visit I know to look for the familiar, but expect to be greeted by the unexpected as well. Knowing my place, this place, through the seasons. Traveling to exotic places is fun, but staying local is even more exciting
We chose a trail we’ve never hiked before, though we’ve conquered this mountain from two other trails many times over the years. Today’s choice was based on an email from Allen Crabtree, leader of the Denmark Mountain Hikers. The lovely thing about it was we walked along a snowmobile trail to the summit and so were happy to be on micro-spikes and not snowshoes or postholing. And the temperature was crisp enough to keep the snow firm, at least on the way up Burnt Meadow Mountain.
After passing by what I think was an old barn foundation, the trail continued on fairly level ground for a bit and we worried that I may have misunderstood the directions.
But that didn’t really matter because we were in the woods, together, and enjoying the fact that a fisher had loped across the landscape probably last night when the snow was still soft enough to leave impressions before this morning’s temp of 17˚.
At last the trail began to get steeper and I gave great thanks that it was such a packed trail for it made for an easy ascent. We had no idea what conditions might be under the snowmobile trail, but I suspect on a summer day this isn’t an easy way to go. Not that the other two trails are either.
My real reason for suggesting this hike to My Guy was because I wanted to revisit this site, which we’d reached previously on a exploration down from the summit in 2012.
At the time I was working on an article for Lake Living magazine entitled “Maine’s Lost Ski Areas” and interviewing various skiers and making MG tag along with me as I visited the former ski areas. “Trails hidden in the forest provide us with clues that our town fathers worked hard to create recreational areas, but also to boost the local economy,” I wrote in the article. “You can still find some of the trails and remnants of rope tows and chair lifts. When you unexpectedly come upon cement pads and towers while hiking, it’s a bit like entering a ghost town, a place that has seen a livelier day. So many people have a history with these legendary ski areas. They learned to ski at this one, met their spouse at that one, or won first place in a race.
The skiing industry began in the lakes region in 1936 when a group of ten businessmen each invested $25 and considerable labor to build the first rope tow in Maine. The Jockey Cap Ski Tow helped make Fryeburg ‘The Ski Capital of Maine’ for a brief time.
According to newspaper articles and brochures preserved by the Fryeburg Historical Society, the Fryeburg Winter Sports Committee hired Paul Lamere, a ski instructor, to run a branch of the Lamere School of American Skiing. Lessons were offered one day a week.
Because the Maine Central Railroad had a station in town, Fryeburg residents saw the ski area as a means to support businesses during the Depression. Leaflets proclaiming “Weekends for Your Winter Sports” mentioned “good motels, good restaurants, good rooms in private homes, all prices reasonable . . . use the lighted ski-tow, Friday and Saturday nights, a brilliantly lighted slope and rope to pull you up the hill, a new thrill for winter sports enthusiasts” were distributed in the Portland area. The cost for a ride on the snow train from Portland to Fryeburg was $1.50 and a ski ticket was about $1.00.” (I should mention that the photo above was made possible to Lake Living by the Fryeburg Historical Society.)
But we weren’t at Jockey Cap today. And this ski area was a wee bit newer as I quoted former Lake Region High School principal Roger Lowell telling me he’d skied at Burnt Meadow Mountain, which had one lift and a lodge. If you look below the arrow, the top tower was the end of the line and skiers had to exit off the T-bar at that point.
From my article, “According to NELSAP (New England Lost Ski Area Project), in 1967 the Burnt Meadow Mountain Recreation Area received a loan from the Farmer’s Home Association to create a ski area that opened for the 1971-72 season, but saw its demise when several bad snow years followed. In 1980, Wendell Pierce, owner of a northern Maine ski area, purchased Burnt Meadow and renamed it Zodiac Skiway.”
“‘It had pretty good skiing from the top,’ recalls Roger, ‘but three quarters of the way down it flattened out and you had to get up steam to make it all the way without poling.’ He and his team got into trouble for going too fast. ‘WE were bombing the thing so we wouldn’t have to skate to the lift,’ he says.
While there on his own one day, Roger learned about a race. After discovering he couldn’t inspect the course, he found himself last in line. ‘I figured what have I got to lose so I went fast. It didn’t matter if the gates were down a bit. You would have thought I was Jean-Claude Killy.’
Roger won the race and received a blue ribbon similar to what they award at the Fryeburg Fair. ‘I think it said something like FIRST on it,’ he says, a wry look on his face. ‘It was very generic. A conversation piece.’ That was the last race held there. The ski area continued to lose money and closed in 1982. The T-bar still stands intact.” That was 11 years ago, but today’s photos speak to the fact that it still stands intact.
It didn’t take long for us to reach the summit, where we walked around taking in the views beyond, this a look toward Stone Mountain, which is accessible via the Twin Brook Trail.
Finally, we sat upon lunch rock to enjoy our sandwiches, followed by Fly Away Farm’s Almond Biscotti with Mocha Drizzle. MG just thought it was chocolate so let’s keep that secret between us.
At last we began our descent, with a goal to find Mount Washington. And we did. Do you see it between the trees?
And then we found it again when we slipped off trail to take in the scene from a ledge. We always love to know where we are in the world. Our little world.
As we continued downhill, I was stopped in my tracks. That happens occasionally. (Insert smiley face) But this tree that leaned across the trail begged to be noticed and I’d missed it on the climb up the mountain.
Its manner of growing needles upon the trunk like no other evergreen that I know of gave me an immediate identification.
Add to that the number of needles that grow in short individual bundles: 3. Three strikes and you are out. Pitch Pine. Get it?
In the end, we thought we’d lost winter, but we found it alive and well and holding on for a wee bit longer. And even longer than that if you are at the summit of Mount Washington.
At the same time, because we are on the cusp of a seasonal change, we found spring in the form of swelling Red Maple buds . . .
and Striped Maple.
We also found some stuff left behind by other recent hikers. We left the sunglasses on a cairn at the summit.
And a glove at the trail intersection.
In fact, just after putting the glove on the sign we found an optic cleaning clothe–maybe to clean the sunglasses?
This was indeed a lost and found Mondate.
Oh, and thanks again to Allen Crabtree for his write-up and directions to the trailhead and mention of my friend Marita Wiser’s book: Wrote Allen: “The origin of the name “Burnt Meadow” is not clear. Most trail guides attribute the lack of large trees on the mountain to the Great Fires of 1947 which also burned more than 80% of the old homes in Brownfield. Marita Wiser, in her Hikes in and around Maine’s Lake Region says,”…the name of Burnt Meadow was established long before . It is shown on…an 1858 map of Brownfield.’”
Once upon a time . . . there was a season named Winter. Now winter isn’t typically capitalized unless it falls at the start of the sentence, but for the sake of our story, it shall be so.
And there was a young woman . . . well, she’s old actually, but don’t tell her that because her twelve-year-old self still lives within her heart. This young woman decided to check on Winter. But she didn’t want to wear snowshoes and so she did a lot of postholing, making her feel more her actual age.
The young woman’s search led to islands such as this, but still Winter persisted and made its presence known.
Everywhere, the young woman heard the drumming of Pileated Woodpeckers, all friends of Winter, but because she was postholing, she couldn’t get a good look at the birds.
She did, however, find scat! Of course she did. This one seemed to be full of insect bodies and some seed capsules. And if you look closely, you too might see something else in this photo in the form of even smaller insects–Springtails. They also adore Winter.
The next stop on the young woman’s tour was a visit to the neighborhood vernal pool, where soon she’ll spend hours staring into its shallow depth and watching all of the activity that takes place there. For now, Winter still has a slight hold on the pool.
After some more postholing, the young woman finally reached a well-packed trail and paused as she often does beside a small stream where the dappled sunlight highlighted at least ten shades of green. But still Winter was there.
In another location, the young woman discovered the blues and grays of the sky above reflected in the brook below and the sight of more color tested her love of Winter.
But Winter wasn’t ready to go to bed just yet and a coat of thin ice on quiet water proved that point.
Behold, however, in the sky above, a Turkey Vulture’s raised its wings in its dihedral habit as it rocked back and forth on the brisk wind that marked this day. Winter saw this as well and began to wonder.
And this Pussy Willow the young woman paused beside added to Winter’s wonder.
“Should I stay or go?” asked Winter.
The young woman thought and thought. It was a most difficult question to answer because of her love for Winter. But in the end, she said, “Sweet Dreams, Winter. Stay under your covers and when you wake up next December, we shall meet again.”
We headed into the wilds today where we didn’t have cell coverage which was quite okay with us. It was a favorite hike, though we weren’t sure what the conditions would be so we brought both snowshoes and micro-spikes.
From the get-go, it was obvious that snowshoes would be the necessary item and so we donned them and headed down the road.
It’s a road I LOVE to walk rather than drive down because there are telephone poles that call for my attention. Do you see what I saw? Nice shiny numbers, yes. But even better, the scratches.
And on this one scratches plus bite marks. All the work of a Black Bear. Whether it’s the creosote on the pole, the hum of electricity riddling high above on the wires, or something new and shiny in their territory, Black Bears are attracted and rub their backs against the object as they turn their heads to nip and bite. The jagged horizontal lines speak to the upper incisors scraping the wood as they reach toward the lower incisors.
Almost a mile in we reached the starting point for our expedition. Much but not all of the Stone House property is conserved under an easement with Greater Lovell Land Trust.
Typically we circle the Shell Pond trail system in a counter-clockwise fashion, but we decided to do the opposite today and so once we reached the airfield, I had to turn back to take in the view of the mountains from part of the runway built in the 1960s by Henry Saunders so that he could fly into the Stone House property. Saunders Brothers owned this property at that time and had a dowel mill in Bridgton, but their main mill was in Westbrook, Maine.
The airfield passes by the Stone House and hikers must stay on the trail. In Cold River Chronicle, local historian David Crouse wrote recently: “The Stone House, located on the Stone House Road (formerly known as the Shell Pond Road) in North Stow, Maine, was built about 1840 of split granite blocks quarried on nearby Rattlesnake Mountain by Abel Andrews (1807-1884), who settled there with his family in the 1830s. Abel’s wife, Lucinda Brickett (1817-1884), was daughter of John Brickett of the so-called Brickett Place at North Stow. The homestead passed to Abel’s son Elden (1836-1914) and then to Elden’s son Ira Augustus (1863-1942), who sold it in 1917. Since 1917, this property has had a succession of owners other than the Andrews family. Between 1951 and 1986 it was owned by Saunders Brothers Company of Westbrook, ME, who built a private 1600 foot airstrip in the field south of the stone house. Saunders Brothers used the stone house as a hunting lodge for their employees and guests. In 1986, the property was purchased by David Cromwell. The Stone House farm property is still in private ownership and is completely surrounded by land owned by the U. S. Forest Service’s White Mountain National Forest.”
Each time we pass this way I give thanks to the owners who allow hikers and hunters and rock climbers to use their trails.
We continued on through the orchard, where we had to start breaking trail as others had turned back.
Rattlesnake Brook flows beside the orchard and in a couple of months wildflowers and ferns will emerge, but for now there’s a lot of snow, with a Nor’easter sitting on the doorstep waiting to enter in a couple of days.
Everywhere, there were Otter trails a few days old and I could only imagine the fun of sliding across the orchard, through the woods and in and out of the water.
As custom has it, we stopped at a bench overlooking Shell Pond and realized it was time for a Double Chocolate Brownie–energy needed to continue the journey.
At another stream crossing, I had to pause again. Spring will come and I will love it, but I’ll miss this.
And I’ll miss having the opportunity to spot sights like this–the track of a Mink. I didn’t have Trackards with me for this trip so I grabbed chapstick from my pocket for size. The chapstick is 2.5 inches in length and the trail width was a wee bit longer.
Hiking backwards, well, not literally walking backwards, but you know what I mean, I was afraid I might miss this guy, but there T-Rex was, donning a winter hat.
Onward and upward my own guy and I trudged, pausing occasionally to take in the view. If you decide to go in the next day or two, we packed a great trail for you to follow.
At a second bridge crossing Rattlesnake Brook, we paused again.
Another Mink track exiting the brook. Probably the same critter.
But this one was even better because a deposit had been made.
In the form of scat, of course.
After several hours of hiking, we found our way back to Shell Pond Road, and I picked up where I’d left off with my game of Phone Tag, checking each telephone pole that I’d skipped on the way in.
Pole number 7 was especially chewed up.
But, the real joy of the game was finding the phone message I’d sought–Bear hair. The color was such for it was bleached by the sun which causes a Black Bear’s hair to turn ginger.
If you do decide to go to the Shell Pond trail and play your own version of phone tag, be aware that you’ll need to park by the first field just over the bridge that crosses Cold River and walk in–trying not to swim in the pool along the way.
Who needs cell coverage when you’ve got such a party line of poles to follow?
On March 7, a group of us known as Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Tuesday Trackers, headed off into the woods at a local reserve in search of what tracks we might find. We’d barely started (and could still see where we’d parked our vehicles, which is always our joke because we’ve been known to spend three hours exploring and only cover a quarter mile) when we happened upon the tracks of a Wild Turkey. It was a fun quiz because the bird had post-holed in the deep snow and we had to pay attention to not only the pattern of the trail it left behind, but also the characteristics of individual prints. Once determining this was a heavy, three-toed critter, we knew the identity of the track maker.
Deer tracks also drew our attention and we looked at the shape as well as the depth and finally found two cloven toes deep in the snow.
But then . . . our job became more difficult. By the size of the stride of the next mammal we followed, our measurements came up with a toe-to-toe length of 14 inches repeatedly. But the print looked like that of a critter with a much longer stride–20 – 22 inches typically. We followed it for a while, and kept looking for a perfect print, which wasn’t easy to find given that Saturday’s storm, followed by melting temperatures and lots of wind since then, created a lot of tree plops (aka ploppage in our group) and melt out so there were nothing clear to read.
At last we found one, and given the size of the print, which measured the same each time at about 2.5 inches, and the symmetry of the toes, plus the X between toes and metacarpal pad, we know were were following an Eastern Coyote.
Eventually we found a track that had a bit of a sashay to the pattern, but at times it looked like the Coyote had walked on top of it. We were a bit confused, until we found a sign that confirmed the sashayer–a piece of a Porcupine’s hide–with belly hairs and short quills.
It doesn’t take much to excite us and this indeed did.
But . . . what happened here?
Our time together was drawing to a close, so rather than pursue more action, we chose to hike out, making a plan for a few of us to return today.
Special thanks to Mark and Sue, who drove all the way from Farmingdale, Maine, to join us, plus some of our regulars: Jessie, Tom and Paula, Dawn, and Sarah.
Bee-lining in on the trail this morning, Pam, Dawn, Sarah and Steve, joined me for the reconnaissance mission. We began by measuring the depth of hole where it appeared a coyote had dug at the spot where we recovered the hide piece yesterday. Total depth, a foot.
A little digging produced nothing else much to our disappointment. We were looking for body parts. Or blood.
Finally, we moved from yesterday’s ending point forward–backtracking the Coyote or so we thought, as we followed the Porcupine’s sashay, that had melted out even more in the last 22 hours. Suddenly, we had trails going in various directions.
Again, we questioned: Was it a Coyote or was it a Bobcat? And then we found this large depression filled with Porcupine hair and quills.
Again, the shovels came out, but we found only ice below the snow.
There was a calling card at the edge of the depression, however, and we knew that one of the predators was indeed a Bobcat, given the segmented scat. And if you think the white in some of the chunks is bone, we believe you would be wrong. It struck us as perhaps being the lining of an organ.
We moved beyond that site and found some tracks that also lead us to solidify the Bobcat ID. But . . . we began to wonder: Did the Bobcat cache the Porcupine and then return to dig it up? Did the Coyotes also come upon this pantry item and take advantage of the Bobcat’s food?
As we considered all of this, suddenly, in the not too far distance, we heard Coyotes calling. Did they have another meal that the Alpha pair were calling the youngsters to visit?
Eventually we made a decision to make our way back to where we’d gone off trail and see what might have happened on the north side. Again, we kept finding what we thought were Coyote, and then some prints that were Bobcat.
The Bobcat prints frequently led to buried rocks or stumps where it could pause and look out on the scene in hopes of finding more prey. The thing is, this has been a tough winter in some places such as Oxford County, Maine, because we’ve been through two summers of a major Spongy Moth outbreak and the trees had all they could do to put out a second set of leaves after the first set had been consumed. That means that there isn’t a lot of fruit in the forms of cones and beech nuts available, thus there aren’t a lot of rodents, a prime source of winter food for predators such as these.
For a while, we split up, each following a different trail, but quite often they came back together again. And so did we. And still. we were seeing the prints of both of our friends. Until, we realized, the Bobcat was traveling in one direction, and the Coyote in the opposite, one using the prints of the other for easier traveling, just like we had been able to beeline in on the tracks we’d made yesterday, saving energy, which is important when the snow is deep and food scarce. The Coyote sunk down more than the Bobcat, and the stride for both made sense.
We were just about done, but knew that our way back to the main trail was not a direct line, because there was a ledge in front of us that our friend the Bobcat had traveled upon and even left a bit of a trough from frequent use.
Instead, we traversed down and around the ledge and discovered what may be the Bobcat’s den.
The round prints led right into it.
And out again. We all took a turn peaking in, but it went deeper than we could see.
We did notice that there were several trails of Bobcat tracks leading up the slippery ledge to the lookout spot above.
At the end of this journey, it became obvious that this was the Tail of Two Days–for we were so happy to have shared the trail with so many others on Tuesday, but grateful to have returned today to check out more. And where we’d found the bigger depression with quills and hair and Bobcat scat, we also found another depression that contained this –the Porcupine’s tail.
After three snowstorms this past week, the latest dumping over a foot of white stuff in western Maine, winter has finally arrived. Or, as a friend calls it, “Second Winter.”
In fact, there is finally so much snow, that my wee studio, the spot where I used to escape to write and sketch many moons ago, looks as if it’s being gobbled up and about to disappear into the landscape.
I love winter and so I’m thrilled to know that it’s not ready to give up on us yet. I also love how winter likes to play, creating tree boas that defy gravity.
In spite of all that, I do need a touch of color now and then and so I headed to a local brook where I know the Mallards gather.
And tread water as they wait for what, I don’t know. Perhaps for me to admire them: those shiny green heads, the sharp white necklaces, and cute little curly tail feathers. They tolerate our cold winters and as long as there is food and open water, such as this spot, I know where to find them.
I finally left the ducks behind and continued walking beside a second brook, pausing occasionally to reflect on the changes I’ve observed in this spot over the years, including one late November afternoon when I heard the water flowing as if over a fall and then spotted beavers hard a work, building a dam. Today, it was the spring ice that caught my attention and I know that as much as I want winter to last, spring is just around the corner and soon I’ll be peering into vernal pools.
And then, something quite small captured my attention. A Winter Stonefly! Scurrying across the snow.
Suddenly, what began as one sighting turned into two and then . . . hundreds as my eyes focused. In winter, crazy as it may seem, the aquatic immature stage of a Winter Stonefly, aka naiad, crawls from the rocky bottom home of the brook where it has spent the last year or more maturing (going through as many as thirty molts)and shredding falling leaves, climbs up through crevices in the snow that covers the brook, finds a plant or some other spot to emerge as an adult, and leaves behind its shed skin, much like a dragonfly or damselfly.
My attention in tune, I began to notice several things. First, there were large Winter Stoneflies . . .
and some much smaller, known as Small Winter Stoneflies in common terms. Their wings are non-functional, thus they crawl. But herein was the curious thing, at least to me. They all were headed west.
It didn’t seem to matter if I found them where the brook was to the east, or to the north, all of the Stoneflies walked in a westerly direction. Why?
I began to wonder where they were headed, so . . . I followed them. To tree trunks. I’d say any tree trunk, for the species didn’t seem to matter, but maturity did and they all headed to older trees. At least, the insects I observed.
This Small Winter Stonefly had obstacles of ice crystals to work around, but it was on a mission to reach that tree.
Once there, the insects crawled down under the snow beside the trunk and I had to wonder if a party was in the making. The bark is warmest in that spot, so it was a good place to get out of the weather.
Stoneflies have hammer-like structures on their abdomen that make noise when thumped against a surface, like a tree trunk or a twig or even the ground. This is a mating call. The males drum, and the females drum back, and voila, they find each other and canoodle.
It’s not the same drumming sound as we hear daily from our resident Pileated Woodpecker. In fact, it’s made for Stonefly ears only and it’s not a party for which we receive an invitation.
Seeing so many Stoneflies made me want to celebrate anyway for they, like Mayflies, and Caddisflies, are particularly sensitive to pollution and serve as bioindicators of water quality. That means the brooks beside which I walked have excellent water quality.
And though I couldn’t hear the percussion instruments at the base of the trees, I am grateful to have spent some time with those who march to the beat of a different drummer.
That is the question. But the answers aren’t always obvious.
Before I go further I need to warn you. There are some photos that may disturb you because friends and I have recently stumbled upon fresh mammal kill sites–the work of other critters and not by human hand.
But as one friend said recently when I asked if she and her husband wanted to visit one of the sites, “A kill site! Yes, we want to join you. A kill site is even better than scat!” And so they turned their car around and changed their afternoon plans.
I had actually been told about this spot about five days before my first visit, and probably a lot had changed since it was initially spotted. But still, look at all that hair. And all the footprints surrounding it.
It was deer hair. Winter deer hair. Hollow hair that helps trap air and keep them warm during cold winters in New England. While in the summer, their coats are reddish-brown, in winter, the color may be brown or grayish-brown. Possibly the darker color helps them absorb more sunlight, adding to the warmth factor.
Looking about, it was obvious that a lot had happened in this spot. There was hair everywhere, and blood, and scat, and bones, and even mud as the perpetrators traveled through the adjacent wetland, which given the ice/water conditions, was too treacherous to follow.
But at the scene, leftovers, like this leg and foot.
And part of the hide with more bones to nosh on.
A scapula, that was outlined with teeth marks.
The top of the head, spine and ribs, plus another leg. Do you see that whitish oval on the leg? That is the tarsal gland, a key for deer communication. It is found on both bucks and does. Each hair in that oval secretes an oily substance and when a deer rubs-urninates, bacteria living within the gland mixes with the urine and the deer leaves behind its own unique odor–possibly providing important information like age, health, and other characteristics.
A few feet from the top of the head, the lower mandible sat, completely stripped of any meat and skin that had covered it.
About fifteen feet away lay the rumen, or stomach contents. In Mark Elbroch’s Mammal Tracks & Sign, he writes: “Coyotes tend to open a carcass from the rear and then move into the ribs and cut out the internal organs. They often remove the rumen right away; this may be an indicator of the original kill site or the place where the carcass was encountered. Within a short time, the carcass is dragged and moved several times, and it is cut into smaller pieces and dragged in different directions by different coyotes seeking a spot to feed in solitude.”
It turned out, however, that it wasn’t just a coyote family enjoying this grand feast. The print with the asymmetrical toes indicated another, more solitary figure had entered the scene.
A friend placed his game camera on a nearby tree and captured some of the action by the one with the bobbed tail.
Click on the white arrow and watch the bobcat dine.
He looked quite healthy and sated after partaking in such a meal.
And left plenty of tarry, segmented scats behind–as a parting thank your note.
The bobcat wasn’t the only one to leave his calling card. If you take a look inside the eye orbit, you might spy the mark of another.
It was a small deposit, the sign of an ermine or long-tailed weasel.
So, the story of this deer’s tale goes something like this: “A neighbor told us that a couple of days before the deer carcass was found, a deer was chased out of the forest onto the pond by two coyotes. When the coyotes saw the neighbors they ran off and the deer ran down the pond to the outlet. The deer had been wounded and left an intermittent blood trail. We are thinking this was the same deer that was killed on the nearby trail,” wrote Paula, the one who’s face lit up when I invited her to change her afternoon plans and visit the site.
One final look at the tippy toes and dew claws of the deer–can you imagine walking on your tippy toes all day as ungulates do?
And then it was on to another place on another day–after a recent fluffy snowstorm. The storm had ended during the previous day, but then there was a dusting overnight, followed by gusty wind. Two friends and I met at a trail system and within minutes one set of tracks led to another and that set led to a half dozen others, all traveling together. Like a pack. Or a family. Mom, Dad. And the kids.
At first we thought domestic dog, but then we found a tuft of fur. And so we continued on, spying something amiss in the track ahead.
Another kill site. If you know us, you can imagine our glee. Who did it? And what happened next? What we noticed: the area had been visited by many, who had then taken off in different directions. The meal had been buried under a pine sapling. There was some urine deposited by the midnight raiders. We found some hair of varying colors. And we had lots of questions.
On one side, a rib cage well cleaned.
On the other side of the hole, a second rib cage that at first we considered had been torn from the first, but then decided it belonged to a different critter.
And there was a leg by the hole. To whom did the leg belong? The foot was gone, which would have provided a clue. We did spot some reddish hair still clinging to it.
All appeared to have been excavated from the hole so we decided to take a closer look.
Up close, there didn’t seem to be anything else of note.
But, we’re a curious sort (in more than one way) and so Joan and Dawn used the tools we had to dig in.
To our discerning eyes, there was nothing more, though we could have missed a clue.
What we did find curious, was that upon closer inspection of a tuft of hair that looked grayish at first glance, it was really black and orangey tan. We had talked about a young deer at first, then switched our minds to a fox. but if you look back at the head of the deer at the other site, there is a lot of similarity. And the leg was long–which we thought could perhaps be the hind leg of a fox, but maybe it makes more sense that it belonged to a young deer.
We didn’t reach a definitive conclusion, but what we did think about was that the first site had been the work of coyotes, which a bobcat had visited. It occurred to us that the second site was probably the work of a bobcat, which coyotes had visited. As Elbroch writes, “Bobcats cover their prey and often move the carcass and recover it on successive nights. They appear to be unable to break the large bones of mature deer, so they sever and separate them from the carcass at the joints as they feed. A cleaned carcass with intact large bones is a good indicator of a bobcat kill.”
Not to cache or to cache? That is the question. But, occasionally coyotes will cache too. Tracking. It’s not a simple, straightforward art and each time we practice it, we come away with questions and learn a wee bit more to store in our brains for the next time.
We didn’t know what to expect when we headed off on a trail today. Or even what to wear on our feet–besides winter boots that is. And so we donned snowshoes initially in hopes that should we locate a Tiger, we’d be able to move easily across the snow rather than posthole and get slowed down.
Ah, but there were things that did slow us down. If you are a long-time follower of wondermyway.com, then you know I can’t resist a Pileated Woodpecker tree . . . among other subjects that repeatedly slow me down. This one was fun because it was obvious that the bird stood on the snow to excavate at least the bottom hole. In my mind’s eye, I could see it using its tail feathers as the third leg in a tripod while its beak pounded away at the tree, excavating a hole. Did it find any food?
Indeed it did and several healthy looking cylindrical scats full of the indigestible parts of the Carpenter Ants it sought were waiting to be discovered like little piles of treasure.
Was the Tiger hiding among the wood chips? No, unfortunately not.
The next great sight was the cocoon of a Promethea silkworm moth. When the caterpillar or larval form of the moth was ready to pupate at the end of last summer, it strengthened the stem, or petiole, of a leaf with silk, and then attached the silk to a nearby branch as you can see, assuring that the leaf would remain attached to the tree rather than fall off. It then spun the cocoon inside the curled leaf.
This species overwinters as pupae in a state known as diapause. During pupation, the larval structure breaks down into a soupy form and then restructures so that by the end of the process (in late May/early June) adult structures, including wings appear before its time to emerge and fly.
Was the Tiger hiding behind the cocoon? No, unfortunately not.
And then there was the Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar–climbing a tree to look for food on a winter day? Hardly. At a certain point in its growth, it lightly locked its legs into mat of silk it had produced on the branch. It then released enzymes that dissolved the inner layer of its cuticle, and a day or so later, much like a dragonfly or cicada emerging from exuviae, the caterpillar’s cuticle split above the thorax and the caterpillar literally crawled out of its skin. This is an old cuticle left behind.
Was the Tiger hiding amid the HTM’s cuticle? No, unfortunately not.
As we hiked along the snowshoe trail, we had to work our way around, over, and under downed trees, but this one encouraged me to pause for it’s one I don’t encounter on an everyday basis, much like its cousin with bristles on its leaf lobes. The cousin in Northern Red Oak, but the leaves we met today belonged to White Oaks. Oh, there were red oaks along the way, and I don’t mean to downplay them, but I’m forever in awe of the marcescent (leaves that wither but remain attached to the stem) of White Oaks. Those veins. That color. And the shape. Always curled in winter as if an open palm.
Was the Tiger masked by the downed tree? No, unfortunately not.
At an erratic the size of a small house, I had to take a closer look and convinced my guy to pause. He did and circled the boulder in search of the Tiger.
Did he find the critter? No, unfortunately not.
It was next to a Speckled Alder that our attention, well, my attention turned. What initially stopped me in my tracks was the woolliness of Woolly Alder Aphids. Those fuzzy aphids feed on the sap of the shrub and produce white wax, or “wool,” filaments from their abdominal glands.
They drink volumes of sap in order to get enough nitrogen, which they then exude as honeydew. In the summer, I find ants farming them to sip the honeydew.
But that’s not all that is interested in the sweet liquid. A Black Sooty Mold loves the honeydew as well.
The funny thing is that I was just discussing this yesterday with Land Steward Leah of Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The Black Sooty Mold is actually a Poop Eater! What? Yup. A poop-eating fungus. The natural world is more otherworldly than one can even imagine.
The Sooty Mold’s name comes from the dark threadlike growth (mycelium) of the fungi resembling a layer of soot or rather, a bit like elongated coffee grounds, and within my hands, its brittle structure quickly splintered into tiny specks.
Was the Tiger hiding among the Sooty Mold? No, unfortunately not.
Eventually, we returned from whence we’d come because one of the snowshoe trails is an out-and-back, found a rock upon which to sit for lunch, and the same served as a storage hide-away for our snowshoes while we donned micro-spikes, for the rest of the journey would be along a snowmobile trail. The thing about snowmobile trails in our area–they were closed a few days ago, just at the start of Spring Vacation, oops I mean Winter Vaca, but such have been the temps of late and the trails are not safe–especially where they cross waterways or boggy areas.
That said, I stepped off the trail and located this tree–a wonder unto itself. For those who know the species, it’s a Hophornbeam gone astray. Typically, these trees of sorta shaggy, yet tight bark, if one can be such, grow straight and strong, but obviously there was an interruption in the growth of this tree, though eventually it found its way skyward as is its normal behavior.
Was a Tiger hiding among the trees? No, unfortunately not.
I discovered the disfigured Hophornbeam because I’d gone closer to the water to spy on a couple of Beaver lodges. And I’m happy to report that based on the mud and fresh branches, they appeared to be active.
Was there an active Tiger in the area as well? No, unfortunately not.
Shortly after reaching Snowmobile Trail ITS 89, we noted the double-wide stonewall, a hint of days gone by when the property was probably plowed for agricultural reasons. We also noted that it’s been a while since that practice occurred for so old did the Eastern White Pine that grew atop the wall appear.
Was it large enough to hide a Tiger? No, unfortunately not.
So the next spot brought a smile to my face, for often, when I’m leading a hike my mouth gets ahead of my brain and I know I mean birch when I say beech, or visa versa, but here they were representing as one in the same for over time they had rubbed against each other for so long that they rubbed together.
Here’s a new word for me: Inosculation–when the friction between two trees causes the outer bark of each to scrape off at the point of contact. The trees respond by producing callus tissue that grows outward, thereby increasing the pressure between the two. This pressure, along with the adhesive nature of sap or pitch that exudes from their wounds, reduces the amount of movement at the point of contact. But the question remains: Does the cambia layer from the two trees come in contact and the vascular tissues become connected, allowing for the exchange of nutrients and water? Maybe if they are trees of the same species, but these were two different species and I suspect they are actually false grafts, which means the two trees have not formed a union of conductive tissues. Going forward, when I say Birch and mean Beech, or Beech and mean Birch–I shall remember these trees.
As for the Tiger, did he know them as well? No, unfortunately not.
As the sun began to shine, we found ourselves pausing beside Cold Rain Pond, where Sheep Laurel showed off its plans for the future. I want winter to continue, and apparently it might, for such is the forecast for later in the week when temperatures are supposed to dip to more seasonal numbers and snow is in the forecast, but note those buds.
Did they obscure the Tiger? No, unfortunately not.
As we backtracked our journey and followed the snowmobile trail out several hours later, I found the evidence we sought. A footprint. Certainly that of a Tiger. A very big Tiger for our area.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to locate the Tiger. We knew it was there somewhere, but just like our Bobcats, it chose to remain elusive and hid among the shadows. Do you see it?
After all, we had traveled over 7 miles of Loon Echo Land Trust trails at their Tiger Hill Community Forest.
There must be Tigers in the midst, indeed. For why else would it be named such?
Disclaimer: the Tiger print is actually a bleached out Bobcat print–made larger as the temperatures rise.
Field Trip! It was actually planned for yesterday, when more would have joined us, but Greater Lovell Land Trust’s docent Joe knew that it was best to postpone given yesterday’s weather–a blustery rainy day. Today, however, dawned sunny and bright and so five of us drove over an hour to reach the coast.
By 9:00am, we had scopes and binoculars in play, each looking in a different direction until one among the group made a discovery and then all focused on the same. Behind the scopes, Dawn, Joe — our leader, Lisa — Joe’s co-leader, and Izzy.
We came in search of Common Loons because we spend summers listening to their musical tremolo laughter and blood-curdling yodels, the latter being the most primordial of calls that echo across the lakes and ponds of western Maine. We watch them fish and preen and raise their young. Occasionally, they surface beside our kayaks as we paddle. And then, in late summer/fall, they gather socially in what’s known as a raft, as they prepare for migration. By the time ice forms, they’ve flown the coop, or rather our freshwater bodies. But where do they go? That was the question we wanted to answer.
And did so within minutes of arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. Our loons actually don’t have far to go, That said, the loons that winter here may also be from points North and West. What surprised our leaders today was that the birds we spotted were already molting from their drab winter plumage to the dapper summer attire.
But there were so many more to spy through our lenses, including these Brant Geese. This was a new species for me, and one of the clues I need to remember for future ID is the white necklace it donned, plus the pale belly as compared the dark back and neck.
Another first, and I never would have seen these birds if Joe and Lisa hadn’t spotted them, Purple Sandpipers roosting on a rock, which apparently was a gift to us, for we were told they are often quite active as they search for mussels and crustaceans. I have never actually heard of a Purple Sandpiper before, so named for a violet-colored sheen of some feathers.
Common Eiders were . . . rather common on today’s quest, given that in the four spots we visited over the course of 5 hours, 97 were counted. I was not one of the counters as I spent the time trying to get my bird eyes on and just plain recognize what made an eider an eider and not a loon. Long beak–yes, but not as long or pointed from my point of view. Head shape a bit different, much more mottled head, and a completely different pattern of feathers. Just for starters.
In one of the locations we visited, there were Scoters, and Harlequins, and some of those 97 Common Eiders. It was here that we learned to watch the surf rise and fall closer to the rocks and the Harlequins dive and pop up over and over again. Pop. Pop. Goes the Weasel. I mean Harlequin.
In a third spot, another Common Loon, this one preening.
Our eyes were at once drawn skyward where we watched in wonder as a Broad-winged Hawk soared and then back to the brackish estuary water where a female Common Goldeneye with its brilliant amber eye glistening in the midday sun. Like so many of today’s birds, we had to keep looking to spot this one for it did what its species does and dove for food before resurfacing nearby.
Seals were also part of the scenery, but I do apologize for the photo not being clear. If you care to look, they are the light-colored blobs atop the rocks.
At 2:00pm, our time together came to an end, but we gave great thanks that we’d had a chance to do what the loons do and go for a deep dive into the winter lives of so many feathered friends.
Joe reported on eBird that we spotted 26 species in all.
At the risk
of sounding redundant,
I bring forth
a prickly topic.
A quick glance
while surveying treetops
my heart sang
as I spotted
a well-armored back.
the track of
a bobcat to thank,
for it showed me the way
to this special find.
as branches snapped
at my side,
and snow crunched
below my feet,
a better look.
My, what big nails you have!
to disturb you,
I chose instead
to follow your
and see where
they might lead.
I lost track of
but then a hint
in the form
a rambling line.
In an opening
I next stepped
and discovered you
had done the same
over and over
to another hemlock stand
by the little brown commas
scattered across the snow,
I knew I'd found
one of your dining rooms.
What I could not locate
was your den
and so I circled back
a few more minutes
admiring your auburn hair,
and chocolate brown eyes.
With your poor eyesight,
I thought perhaps
I was safe
across the snow,
for so loud
were my snowshoes,
to see if I could find a den
in this vicinity
but all I saw
were the fallen branches
from the trees.
It was then
that I returned
you were beginning
to move as well.
Poor eyesight yes,
auditory and olfactory senses
are spot on.
Aware of my presence,
and those raised, sharp-tipped quills
another pole tree
with your feet
as your tail
stayed on full alert
should I approach.
'a slow waddler,
I know you
to move swiftly
so once you
began to climb down,
the time had come
for me to bid adieu
hightailed it home.
Dear Prickly Porcupine,
will be the day
I celebrate you!
It’s not even Valentine’s Day and already I’m thinking of love. Don’t tell My Guy, but this is love of a different sort. And the story all began while tracking with friends earlier this week.
Just as we were about to finish up the program, we spotted the signs of a resident rodent, including downed hemlock twigs and then a den. The den did not entirely make sense due to its placement in what seemed like a wet area, but we decided the critter must have found a dry place above the moisture, for indeed there was scat.
Once spotted, I knew I needed to return, for almost nothing makes me happier than to spot sign left behind by this mammal.
And so I did yesterday afternoon and while taking a different route to the den, I noticed the sashay of said critter as it had waddled through fluffy snow.
Next, I did what I do, and followed the tracks in a different direction than originally intended. And that’s when I saw these, the resident’s name carved on several wooden shingles. It’s an agile critter given that the shingles were posted all the way to the tip top of these pole trees.
Can you read it? Porcupine Lives Here is the inscription engraved on the tree. Actually, it’s a sign of winter feeding for porcupines, like beavers and deer, seek the cambium layer as one of their food sources. Each line shows where the porcupine’s incisors came together as it scraped away to obtain a meal.
And just beyond those pole trees, I spotted a hole that I suspected could only be one thing. A den with tracks leading in and out and the required pee, for such is this mammal’s habit.
A closer look at the dooryard and I spotted a barbed quill and hair. Actually, quills are a modified form of hair.
Did you know that porcupines have a variety of hair? For winter insulation, they have dark, wooly underfur. In addition, there are long guard hairs, short, soft bristles on the tail’s underside, stout whiskers, and then there are those pesky quills.
They aren’t pesky to the porcupine; just us and our pets and any animal that might choose to or accidentally encounter a porcupine.
The quills are 1 – 4 inches in length and lined with a foam-like material composed of many tiny air cells, thus their round, hollow look. There are no quills on the porcupine’s face, belly, or inside its legs.
But on the upper portion of its head, down its back and along the top of its tail, oh my. Within one square inch, there are approximately one hundred quills.
All told, there are over 30,000 quills. But who is counting. Not me. Though I did count these fancy toothpicks, 100 in all, to represent the quills in a square inch.
Despite the myth, porcupines cannot throw their quills. Because the quills are loosely attached, they dislodge easily on contact and stick into a victim’s flesh. And because they are barbed, they are difficult to remove. Talk about a formidable defense!
Returning to the den, which was located within a hollowed tree, I knew the porcupine had visited within the last twenty-four hours but wasn’t so sure it was home at the hour I stopped by.
As I often say, “Scat happens.” And in the case of a porcupine, it happens a LOT! One porcupine evacuates 75 – 200 scats a day. And though this happens as it dines, most of the scat is deposited in the den. Why? Warm insulation on a night as cold as tonight will be with temperatures already in the negatives and wind chills expected to reach -45˚? Or a detractor for predators–do they get a whiff and realize its one they don’t want to visit?
I’m not sure, but this is an example of a winter scat–fibrous from that woody diet of bark and twigs. It’s comma shaped. And often there is a groove down the inside curve.
By spring, it may come as linked pieces, much like a necklace, for grass fibers from a change in diet help create the connection.
Having discovered this den, I decided to follow the tracks, which indicated the mammal had traveled in two directions. Where would it lead me?
Within a tenth or two of a mile, I realized I’d snowshoed back to the spot my fellow trackers and I had discovered two days prior. You can see our snowshoe tracks. But since our visit, the porcupine had happened along, climbed over the downed log and peed.
Did you know that pee plays an important role in a porcupine’s courting ritual. These critters are solitary most of the year, but between September and November they seek a mate. The male, in a bid to woe a female, often approaches and sprays her with his urine. Are you feeling the love? She apparently does, for if she likes the scent of his urine, they might rub noses, or walk on their hind feet before canoodling begins.
Right above the peed-upon log was the entrance to the den and by the sight of the pigpen approach, browner even that it had been previously, I knew this really was active. The soiled snow is from the porcupine walking across its scat to exit the den.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the camera lighting right, but believe me that this one is full of scat as well. And I suspect, though I couldn’t see it, that a porcupine was sleeping somewhere in there, with its tail facing the entrance just in case a predator happened along.
Another indicator of a resident in the house–hoar frost created by breath on a cold winter day.
Right above the den I discovered the tracks of another–enemy number one in a porcupine’s world view. A fisher will kill a porcupine with repeated bites to the face and head.
Coyotes have also been known to work in pairs to maneuver a porcupine onto its back, thus going for the belly, where the hair is wooly.
So the curious story to me was that the fisher passed through after the porcupine was already back in the den, but it didn’t approach the den. Perhaps it had hoped to find the porcupine out in the open and didn’t want to face a tail lashing if it stuck its nose into the house.
Since the pervious visit, there were also more hemlock twigs on the ground and lots more evidence of scat-dirty feet and pee.
Because a porcupine is a rodent, and a large one at that, only exceeded by a beaver in size, it has prominent top and bottom incisors and twig nips are at a 45˚ angle. Can you also spot the scat and hair?
The winter diet consists of needles and bark–favorite trees being hemlock, birch, beech, aspen, elm, oak, willow, fir, and pine.
In spring and summer, a porcupine seeks out grasses and other green plants. And then in the fall, it looks for acorns, tearing into them in a rather messy manner.
In fact, a squirrel’s midden of opened acorns shows that it cuts the hard shell into much neater strips.
A porcupine’s cheek tooth pattern consists of one premolar and 3 molars on each side top and bottom. As you can see, the cheek teeth are modified for grinding since they are strict herbivores.
It’s those prominent incisors that are to be admired. A porcupine uses its large two front teeth for gnawing off bites of food. The incisors continue to grow throughout the porcupine’s life at a rate of twelve inches/year, and the constant gnawing keeps them worn down to the perfect size.
I did not actually see a porcupine yesterday, despite my best hopes, but sometimes it happens when I’m not looking intentionally so there may be a sequel to this story.
A porcupine has poor eyesight, so I’m not sure if it ever actually sees me when it’s up in a tree, especially if I’m standing sorta still, but it does have a good sense of hearing and smell, so I’m sure its aware of my presence. And the tail always faces the trunk in case I decide to climb up–it’s a great defense mechanism–having the tail at the ready to thwart a predator.
I will end this long story with a drawing by a dear friend and fellow naturalist, 8-year-old Aurora. She’s done her homework and I hope one day soon she’ll be able to answer the question: Quill You Be Mine? with a yes!
I’ve been wanting to take My Guy to a certain place in North Chatham, New Hampshire, for the last few years and today was the day that the stars lined up.
Though it appeared we were the second and third humans to head out on the trails this morning, for at the start we spotted only one set of snowshoe tracks, it was obvious that so many others had followed or crossed before us–such as this vole, who tunneled through the fresh inch or two of snow that fell yesterday and then changed its gait.
And then I spotted a sign that always brings me to my knees–fox prints and a dash of urine, probably that of a male in search of a date. Confirmation that it was a fox, and a red one at that, came in the form of the urine’s scent–rather skunk-like. I asked My Guy if he wanted to take a sniff, but he passed on the opportunity.
A wee bit farther and we came upon a smattering of activity, where two foxes had left their dancing cards and I think at least announced their intentions for each other as a date.
These classified ads could be that of the male stating his desire, while the vixen left her own marks of estrus blood as she perhaps investigated his intentions and decided to say yes. The scat? It came from one of them. Another advertisement of health and age and vitality.
While I suspected a meal was not on their minds as she’s only ready to mate for about a week or less, by the amount of snowshoe hare tracks we spotted, we knew that there was plenty of food available. Other offerings on the pantry shelf included ruffed grouse and red squirrel.
Most of the trails at this place are well-groomed by the owners, but we also tried one or two that weren’t.
For the first time in the four or five years that I’ve traveled this way, I finally found the Old Sap House. The owners still tap trees, but obviously this is not where they boil the sap to make maple syrup.
So . . . this was my first journey on the network of trails with My Guy as I mentioned. And I had no idea that it is possible to circle Moose Alley in under an hour. In the past, when I’ve gone with a couple of friends, it has taken us hours and hours because we stop to look at every little thing. And go off trail to follow tracks. And make all kinds of discoveries. But today was different, and that was fine.
I’d also never been on the Sugarbush Trail, which brought us back to the Route 113 and an intersection with Snowmobile Corridor 19. It was here that we heard Chickadees and Red Crossbills singing and I finally located one of the latter in a maple tree.
Crossbills are finches with specialized bills that let them break into unopened cones. Can you see how the top of the bill cross over the bottom?
My intention was that we would eat lunch at one of the benches along the trail system, but we’d hiked most of the system before I knew it and so we sat on the back of my truck and ate. And then we headed back out on Corridor 19, a super highway through Evans Notch.
Only about a quarter mile from the farm boundary, we spotted moose tracks showing two had passed this way recently. We knew they’d been seen on the farm and hoped we might get to spy them, but just seeing their tracks and knowing they were still in the area was enough.
Can you imagine sinking two feet down with each step? Well, actually I can, because I’ve post-holed through snow many a time, but moose and deer must do this daily. For them, it’s routine.
Our reason for continuing on the snowmobile trail was that we had a destination we wanted to reach, that we hadn’t even thought about before reaching the intersection of Corridor 19 just prior to lunch. Eventually, we had to break trail again, and this time it was all uphill, and rather steep at that.
But our real plan was to climb to the Millard Chandler Feldspar Mine (aka North Star Mine) in Evans Notch.
Millard Chandler was a descendent of one of the founding families of Chatham. Originally, mica was mined from the pegmatites but prior to World War II, Whitehall Company, Inc, focused on feldspar.
From the top of the cavern, where life on a rock was evident as the trees continued to grow up there, the water flowed and froze and formed stalactites of sorts. Icicle sorts.
StalacTites grow down from the ceiling of the cavern–think T for Top.
StalaGmites, on the other hand, grow up from the floor–Think G for ground.
In this case, they looked like little fingers reaching up.
This was definitely a Mondate with a view, including Evans Notch from the mine . . .
Norwegian Fjord horses Kristoff and Marta at the farm . . .
and a window that caught my fancy at the sap house.
Our many, many thanks to Becky and Jim for sharing Notch View Farm with all of us. And thank you to Jim for chatting with us twice today. I’m still chuckling about the story of the women from Lovell who visit several times a year and spend hours upon hours on the trail. And then one of them writes long prose and includes pictures of every little thing spotted along the way. Yes, that would be Pam, and Pam, and me! Once, Becky even came looking for us on the snowmobile because we’d been out there for so many hours.
Today, with My Guy, it was a different adventure, but still a fun one and we appreciate that both of you work so hard to share your land with the rest of us.
Winter finally arrived in western Maine this past week in the form of three snowstorms, the last ending with a coating of ice. Between storms, I’ve been teaching others the art of tracking mammals and birds through my work at Greater Lovell Land Trust, as well as a two-day class I taught for a local Senior College, and a day-long class for Maine Master Naturalists.
I love, love, love watching others experience joy as they begin to notice the nuances of print and patterns and scat and sign.
This being the work of a White-tail Deer who scraped its lower incisors up the bark of a tree to get at the cambium layer where the sugars and starches flow. The tags at the top of the scrape are a tell-tale sign because ungulates like deer and moose do not have upper incisors or canines, but rather a hard palate, and yank at the wood as they press their lower incisors against the palate to pull the bark off a tree–mostly Eastern Hemlock or Red Maple.
It wasn’t long after the Senior College outing on Wednesday that snowflakes announcing the third storm began to fly and one of our resident Red Squirrels stopped by to check out the offerings at the bird feeders.
This hearty sole is Ed and as you can see, he’s lost an eye–probably in a disagreement with a sibling, but that doesn’t stop him. He’s perfectly capable of finding food, seeking cover when necessary, and fighting off his brothers.
Ed wasn’t the only one out in the snow, for a male Downy Woodpecker made frequent trips to the suet feeder.
And then, just before twilight the Deer began to appear. The first walked to a Squirrel feeder I was gifted recently, with some peanut butter added to the corn as an enticement. She didn’t seem impressed. I thought that was weird because if you’ve ever made a bird feeder out of pinecones smothered with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, you might notice that the Deer lick everything off within hours of hanging the cones from a branch.
Following the arrival of the first Deer, a sibling came in with mom, but they too, were not impressed.
So the thing about watching the Deer, was that they provided a photographic lesson–beginning with the two cloven toes that form the heart-shape of the impression they leave in the snow–with the pointed end of the heart always indicating the direction of travel. And further up the foot are the dew claws, which sometimes show in a print. If you look at the two hind legs, you can see the dew claws just above the snow. I’ve been told that if the dew claws appear, then it is a buck. I’m not 100% convinced of that. I think it has more to do with snow conditions.
And sunflower seed is not their only form of nutrition, for one of the Hemlocks by the stonewall between our yard and woodlot offered some delectable needles full of vitamin C. Do the Deer know that?
Following the storm, a coat of ice covered the tree branches and even the corn, but that didn’t stop Ed’s brother, Fred, from grabbing a kernel. Actually, the corn had originally been placed about two feet off the ground in an area we’d shoveled, but the snow had piled up again, making the meal easy to reach.
I spent yesterday shoveling what felt like cement. The first two storms offered a much fluffier take on snow consistency. Periodically, like Ted, another brother of Ed, I’d duck into the house. His home is a network of tunnels near the feeders, and so far it has provided good protection.
This morning dawned brighter, and a bit frosty to start. While Fred, Ted, and Ed, ate birdseed and chased each other round and round, a Gray Squirrel stopped by to get a handle on things.
The perfect meal was garnered.
As it turned out, today was a super busy day at the feeders, which Black-cap Chickadees and Nuthatches making frequent visits.
And the puffed up feathers of a male Downy bespoke the temp in the teens. Birds fluff up in the cold to trap as much air in their feathers as possible. The more trapped air, the warmer the bird.
A couple of American Goldfinches were early morning visitors as well, and I love that unlike the Chickadees, Finches are much calmer and stay in one spot for a bit.
Probably my favorite visitor was a surprise for as I was watching the Hairy Woodpeckers, in flew a Red-bellied who worked at a chunk of suet and finally flew off with it.
When I finally headed outside this afternoon, donning my snowshoes to stay atop the 2.5+ feet of snow, I couldn’t believe that for the most part I could stay on top of it, for such was the crusty coating from yesterday’s rain finale. And with each step I took, I heard the crunch below–sounding much like breaking glass.
Much to my surprise, I found the track of a Ruffed Grouse, who did break through the snow.
Of course, it was no surprise to find the figure eight of a deer print, with the foot impression about two feet down. This is a difficult time of travel for them. And I suspect mine will be back by the feeders during the night looking for an easy meal.
And then I discovered a disturbance that I had to investigate. A deep hole had been excavated.
A look at the size and X between the toe and metacarpal pads and I knew who had done the job: an Eastern Coyote.
What it consumed I could not say, but there were some drops and I wonder if they were blood that had darkened a bit as they aged. It’s funny, because I was so sure that I’d come upon a Ruffed Grouse’s snow cave and totally expected to see the bird’s scat in the hole. That was not the case at all, but I don’t know who the victim was that provided the Coyote with a meal. Or at least a snack.
Back in our woods, I met an old friend who has graced these woods for years–or at least members of his family have done so.
He, too, was looking for food. And so intent upon his job was he, that I stood only about fifteen feet away while he worked.
I didn’t step under to check the scat because I didn’t want to scare him off, so I’m not sure if the Pileated Woodpecker’s needs were fulfilled, but given that he had worked on the tree for a while and some of the holes were quite deep, I suspect he had dined on his favorite meal of Carpenter Ants.
Finding food is the name of the game, though it’s hardly a game at all–especially when it’s cold, the snow is deep, and there’s a crust of ice atop it. And that’s just for the critters. Never mind people who have to deal with the elements on a daily and nightly basis.
We finally have a decent amount of snow on the ground after Friday’s storm and another storm is expected to begin in a couple of hours. That meant it was time to don the snowshoes. And so I did. And headed into the woods behind our house.
Immediately I was greeted with nature’s art work, and seeing snowflakes dangle like this will always capture my fancy.
But that wasn’t all that captured said fancy, for at a point where I’d been dealing with trying not to fall into water since it’s quite a wetland out there, I suddenly spotted bobcat prints. And knew I had to follow them.
I hadn’t bothered with my tracking bag full of gear, but did think to stick this little card into my pocket for reference. Can you see the C-shaped ridge between the toe pads and metacarpal pad? And the lead toe–making the overall print asymmetrical. Take a look at your hand. It’s also asymmetrical with a lead finger.
The snow is such a depth that there was foot drag. I got thinking about what the bobcat was hunting for and had seen plenty of snowshoe hare and deer runs so knew there was food available. Where would this cat lead me, I wondered.
It was at that point, however, that I thought about a tracking lesson I taught to future Maine Master Naturalists yesterday–if the prints look fresh, backtrack rather than follow them forward, so you don’t put pressure on the animal. I heeded my own words and turned around.
Of course, there was more art work to spy, like this candy cane dangling from a branch.
In my backtrack exploration, I spotted where the bobcat had climbed over a fallen tree. There were other spots where it went under trees and I had to find a different way around.
Back on track, there were more intersections with deer and even mice. But all continued to live for the moment.
And then my journey led me to another I’ve been looking for all winter because usually I see so much evidence of this critter–a porcupine had sashayed through the snow over night.
I found what I think is its den, given the amount of scat, and a hole. And I’m just now making sense of the story. The hole was not large due to snow in front of it and the scat was a bit frosted. BUT . . . what might have happened is that as the day warmed up, snow fell from the limbs above and the porcupine will dig its way out–in fact, it probably already did about an hour ago, for they emerge during twilight.
I followed the tracks, which led to a hemlock tree where there were a couple of twigs below.
And the bark and cambium layer had been chewed on the main trunk and another branch above.
So at some point in my journey, while I was following the bobcat and off my regular trail, I decided to turn on my GPS until I knew where I was. What surprised me is the circle I made as I followed the porcupine’s trail. I need to make time to visit it again, for it seemed to be a new resident to this spot and there wasn’t any more evidence that it had dined in the area.
It took a few minutes, but eventually I found the bobcat tracks again. Only . . . this time I was following the cat forward. What?
They led me to a spot at the base of a tree where the bobcat took a break and must have curled up. And then it turned around.
And it suddenly became apparent to me: I’d followed the forward track on the left to the turnaround point and on the way back I noticed the backtrack trail I’d previously been following. I never did find the bobcat or the porcupine, but seeing evidence of their activity was enough and it was getting late so I followed an old logging road home.
There were still more baubles to spy, including this one upon a Red Maple that had provided food last winter in the form of buds–a fav of the deer.
And when I returned to our woods, I discovered that four deer had bedded down last night under a raised sleeping platform our youngest son had built about eleven years ago when he was in high school. Look for the smooth edges and you’ll realize each one is oriented in a bit of a different direction, the better to see that bobcat, or even the coyotes, whose tracks I also saw today.
Just for fun, I’ve added these photos of the MMNP students channeling their inner child–each mentor group was assigned a mammal. This group needed to become a bobcat and though you may not quite see it, the bobcat was walking in the zigzag pattern with the hind foot landing where the front foot had packed down the snow, thus each print representing two feet, and conserving energy. And those fingers on the bobcat’s head–ear tufts. Plus the “person” in the back was holding a mitten to serve as the bobcat’s tail.
There was a pigeon-toed porcupine as well that waddled through the snow.
And then it gnawed on the branches of a tree.
They had fun with the assignment. My hope is that these students will get a sense of the tracking glee that I feel every time I follow a trail. Even if I don’t get to see the critter, which is most of the time, just developing an understanding of their behavior makes me so happy.
Once upon a time . . . no wait. This isn’t a fairy tale.
Rather, it’s about changes in the landscape that one might observe, such as a brook suddenly overspilling its banks as was the case in this location upon a December visit. We’d had rain, but that much?
It wasn’t long before a friend and I spotted the reason for the high water. Some new residents had moved into the area and built a lodge of sticks. Unlike the story of the three little pigs, one of whom built a house of sticks that the big bad wolf came in and blew down, the makers of this structure took special care to make it solid and strong and weatherproof. Yes, a beaver or two or six had taken up residence with the intention of spending the winter. Beaver families usually consist of a monogamous couple, plus their two-year-old (almost adult) kids, and yearlings. Mating occurs in the water during the winter and kits are born inside the lodge in the spring.
In order to move into the lodge, a dam needed to be constructed as well. If you look closely, you’ll see that above it there was a bit of an infinity pool with the ice at level with the dam, while below it some water flowed at a much lower level. Though we couldn’t walk along the ice to measure the length of the dam, it was quite long. and made of sticks and leaves and mud. Typically, the family works on this project by creating a ridge of mud and probably the herbaceous plants of the meadow, and then they use the mud and sticks to stabilize it. Maintenance is a constant as water or other critters or humans have a way of breaching the dam.
We, too, build dams to serve similar purposes, such as this one originally constructed to operate a saw mill. Hmmm.
Getting back to the lodge: it also needs nightly work as long as conditions allow and this has been a winter of despair for those of us who love cold temperatures and snow and even ice if it’s in the right place, like on a pond or lake and not in the driveway.
Take a look at how the beaver is holding the small twig.
A beaver’s dental formula is this: 2 incisors on top, 2 incisors on bottom, 0 canines on top, 0 canines on bottom, 2 premolars on top, 2 premolars on bottom (that look like molars), 6 molars on top and 6 molars on bottom, for a total of 20 teeth. Recently, I was able to sketch the upper part of the skull of an older family member, who’d lost some of its molars.
These large, semi-aquatic rodents are gnawers like their relatives. To that end, their incisors are highly specialized for chewing through really, really tough things and they grow continually throughout the critter’s life.
And like all rodents, the front surface of their incisors is coated in enamel reinforced with iron (hence the orange color), which makes it resistant to wear and tear from gnawing. When the chisel-like teeth chew and fell trees, the much softer white dentine layer (the section behind the enamel) is ground down quicker than the enamel, thus creating a sharp chisel surface.
But to me the coolest aspect is that their lips close behind the incisors, thus permitting them to gnaw and carry sticks underwater without choking.
And bingo, you can see the stick being carried in that gap between the incisors and molars. Food sticks become lodge or dam sticks once their nutritional value has been consumed: a true plan of repurposing.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the only beaver family at work in town. This next family, however, chose to park their tree in a spot the fire department lay claim to for filling a water tank. But . . . reading is not on a beaver’s talent list.
In this other place, so many trees have been felled, but not all have fallen as intended, getting hung up on other trees instead. Not wanting to anthropomorphize, but I have to wonder what expletives flash through a beaver’s brain when trees don’t hit the ground as planned.
As strict herbivores, a beaver’s diet varies with changes in the season. During spring and summer, they are drawn to waterlilies, algae, grasses, sedges, herbs, ferns, shrub leaves and shoots. By late summer, however, tree cutting begins as they gradually change their dietary habits from herbaceous to woody materials. Twigs, roots, bark and especially inner bark become the source of nutrition. Aspen, birch, alder, and willow are favored species, but beavers will cut almost anything including conifers.
Imagine this. A beaver cocks its head to the side as it gnaws, thus the consistent angle of the half inch groove as the upper and lower incisors come together.
Likewise, porcupines gnaw, but their incisors are much narrower and the pattern more random.
So, the question remains. Where were the parking lot beavers living? In the past, a family has inhabited the northern most reaches of this pond, but in this case, they had built a lodge on a point not far from the southern end.
The top of the lodge is the only section not covered with mud, for it serves as a “smoke stack” of sorts, a place for beaver breath to escape. Visit a lodge on a cold winter day and you might observe the vapors rising.
And then it was on to another locale, where beavers have inhabited the same lodge for a number of years. When beavers choose to live in a pond or lake or sometimes even a river, there’s no need to build a dam for the water is usually deep enough for their underwater movement.
I often tell people that beaver prints are a rare find because they are either wiped over by the tail or by trees being hauled to the water. Once in a while, however, I’m proven wrong and the sleety snow on a recent day awarded just the right conditions for the webbed feet to be observed.
Tree work and broken ice added to the story of the critters’ journey to and fro the pond. While quite adept at time spent in the water, they are rather clumsy on land and most of their work is within a hundred feet of the edge.
Winter food is cached close by the lodge entrance so that they can swim under the ice to retrieve a stick. A beaver’s ears and nose have a valve that closes when it is submerged and they can stay underwater for up to fifteen minutes. Back at the lodge, there is a raised chamber surrounded by a moat that leads to the entrance tunnel. It’s upon the raised area that they dine, and groom, and even give birth.
At this particular pond, My Guy and I noted two lodges connected by an open channel between. Given the number of tail slaps that announced our presence near both lodges, we thought perhaps both were active and inhabited by the same family.
And then, and then . . . finally, we spotted a beaver that spotted us. We kept expecting it to slap the water with its tail in a manner of warning so other family members would seek deeper water or cover. Instead, it swam past us.
The thing is that a rodent relative, namely the muskrat, exhibits many similarities, but also differences, including a skinny, snake-like tail.
The beaver’s tail is a source of wonder. While its furry body consists of long, shiny guard hairs covering dense and softer hair that traps air and helps protect the critter from the cold, the tail is broad and flat and scaly. It’s used for a variety of reasons including stability when standing upright on land (think tripod), as a rudder for propulsion in water, as fat storage and thermal regulation, and how we are most familiar, as a warning device.
January 6, 1998: Epiphany; the icy rain storm began.
January 7: Even icier.
January 8: No school, power on and off and then OFF, with no more ons.
On the 8th, My Guy had to park his red truck at the neighbor’s house because wires and limbs prevented him from driving up to our house.
Via battery operated radio, CMP (Central Maine Power) officials warned customers not to talk to power people–just let them do their work as they’re under a tremendous amount of pressure. And definitely no bribing them with food.
After our neighbor, Mr. Mush, stopped by in the afternoon to check on us, I looked out the window and noticed a man wearing a hardhat walking up the road. Mr. M. approached him.
“We aren’t supposed to talk to those guys, but he is. I’m going out there,” I thought.
Our youngest joined me. We donned our winter gear and headed out the door. I said to P, “We aren’t supposed to talk to CMP workers. We’ll let Mr. Mush do the talking.” As I said that, I looked for the CMP truck, but didn’t see it. Then I did a double-take.
“Mr. Hall, that’s you,” I said shaking my head as I realized it was another neighbor under the hardhat. “I thought you were a CMP worker. I was so hopeful.”
He chuckled and said, “You haven’t been listening to the news. You aren’t supposed to talk to CMP workers.”
Jan 9: Wee hours of the morning: SNAP! CRACKLE! POP! CRASH!
My Guy flew across our bed as I sat straight up.
“It’s OK,” I choked. “It’s just a tree hitting the roof.”
After which I hyperventilated and struggled to add, “It’s just a tree. It’s just a tree.”
I could hear My Guy trying to reassure me, but I was frozen with wild terror. My throat, which felt like it had closed, finally opened. From that point on, I shook.
The cracking and clashing sounded worse than firecrackers and continued all night long.
January 10: Our friend Bob called from a job he was working on in Massachusetts. He couldn’t get through to his wife, Marita, as their phone line had been affected by the storm. Somehow, however, she and I figured out that we could talk if we picked up our phones at the same time and I guess I called her. Anyway, I assured Bob that she and the girls were fine and she was her chipper self. What I didn’t have the heart to tell him was that his goldfish had not survived the storm. They froze to death.
January 11: Our sons, S and P have storm clean-up all figured out. The town crew will plow up the branches and trees. Logging trucks will also be needed. They’ll haul the wood away to mills to be turned into baseball bats and paper.
We had heat for the first time. No lights, but plenty of warmth and I actually thought of shedding a layer of clothing. Another neighbor’s son-in-law lent us a small generator to fire up our furnace for warmth and to keep our pipes from freezing.
One thing a storm of this magnitude made us realize that people are good. My Guy was one of the best. And my biggest hope after all was said and done was that the people he helped would remember that he stayed open for them without power at the store. And he kept ordering stuff so that he would have what they needed.
Outdoor conferences with the neighbors became a constant.
And family and friends called to offer warmth and a shower.
Marita and I offered each other encouragement and she came to fill water jugs daily. We loved the bread she baked.
January 12: We heard via our battery-operated radio that Baltimore Power trucks arrived in Maine today. Apparently they were sighted on the turnpike bearing signs that read: “Maine or Bust!”
My Guy and I took showers thanks to the generator on loan. And we invited Mrs. Mush over to shower as well. My sister-in-law took the boys for the day, which gave us a chance to do some clean-up, though despite the fact that My Guy wasn’t at the store, he was constantly in contact and thinking about it often. The wee bit of slow-down that the day offered him, gave him time to reflect and sort through all that had happened in the last few days.
One of our tasks, other than yard work, was to clean out the refrigerator and freezer–stinky and sticky. We cleaned it and turned it into a momentary breadbox.
Mrs. Mush and I also picked up sticks and branches in an elderly neighbor’s yard while she was away staying with her daughter and son-in-law.
January 13: 124 hours of no power. School has been cancelled until next Tuesday.
Last night we began helping our next-door neighbors raise the temperature in their house with our Kerosun heater.
The ice, as much as it’s been a menace, is incredibly beautiful.
As cold as it was outside, the boys and I spent as much time outdoors as possible, so it would feel warm when we went back in–at least for a few minutes.
While they skated on our outdoor rink, I chatted with another neighbor, Tom, owner of Tom’s Homestead Restaurant, which he’d turned into a shelter for some people. Despite the fact that we didn’t have power, Tom was still able to function with a woodstove and gas furnace.
“I’ll teach you how to skate, P,” said S.
And so he did. The boys were five and three, S in kindergarten and P in preschool.
They also enjoyed the snow fog that rolled down the street. Oh, and those signs at the end of the driveway: announced to the world that Winnie-the-Pooh’s Studio was located in our barn and everyone was welcome to visit.
Writing that now, I’m reminded of a sign Mr. Mush stuck in the snow at the end of the road: “245 people live on this road.” Um, I’m pretty sure there were only ten houses and residency ranged from 1 to 4 or 5 in any particular abode.
January 14: Imagination has always been the name of the game and the boys have always had vivid ones so, of course, we celebrated Tigger’s birthday, homemade party hats for all.
Another big event today: an NBC affiliate from Washington D.C. came to town to film the proper use of generators. They stopped at Hayes Hardware and interviewed My Guy. Then he sent them to our road to tape a generator in use at a neighbor’s house. The boys and I followed them around the neighborhood. We then called everyone we knew out-of-state and told them to watch at 6pm. We listened on our radio. No mention of our town much to our disappointment–it wasn’t our day to become movie stars.
7:30pm, 148 hours without power. We’re especially concerned tonight because it’s already -2˚ with a full moon. But, there are now five generators being shared between 8 homes on our street.
January 15: With the advent of a full moon, we knew more trouble was brewing as the temperature dropped. Pipes froze in our pantry sink. We placed the Kerosun heater by it and I kept pouring boiling water (thank goodness for a gas stove so we could cook on top, using a match to light the burners), into the sinks–to no avail. At 9:30am, Mr. Mush came over with a torch and warmed the pipes (at that time located literally outside the pantry).
Then he tucked insulation around them.
In between working, My Guy helped to keep everyone on our road under control.
That afternoon, S and I did some yard work, hauling branches to the pile. The boys also sold me some snow cones, snow pies, and lemonade.
While we were outside, a CMP truck drove up. I slowly approached and asked the driver, “Can we talk?”
“Uh oh, you’re scaring me,” he said.
“No, I just want to know if we have any hope,” I replied.
“Well, the crew is in South Bridgton now. When they finish there, they’ll head back into town. They’ll be here. Maybe today, but don’t count on that. Probably tomorrow. But, do you know what the storm looks like?” he asked.
“They’ve lowered the amount of snow to six inches,” I said.
“Good, what about the temp?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Oh, well, we’ll see.” And off he drove.
Later, Marita appeared bearing muffins.
And I had this conversation with P: “What are you doing?” I asked as he chewed his fingernails.
“My fingernails are stuck,” he said.
“What do you mean, your fingernails are stuck?”
He studied his hands, “My fingernails are stuck to my fingers.”
One really bad thing we learned today. Moe Needham’s house burned to the ground last night.
Late that night, after My Guy and I had settled into bed, the most powerful light lit up the street. Of course, anything brighter than a Coleman lantern illuminates our world. But this light was different. High intensity and not flickering like a plow, though it was snowing as predicted.
My Guy dressed and ran outside. I was so excited that I called my sister to tell her men were in buckets up in the trees. I wasn’t sure if they were there to cut trees or reattach wires. After I hung up, I headed out the door. Arborists from Cohrain, Massachusetts. In a state that is proud of being 90% trees, there were many, many downed ones to cut.
January 16: I had the best helpers as we dug out from the overnight storm. S shoveled the snow off the steps.
I only wish I remembered what advice P was offering as he worked. Or perhaps he was gleeful because he was eating snow.
January 17: A CMP scout checked things out.
While the boys and I shoveled six inches of snow off the driveway, the CMP truck crept up the road. The driver told Mr. Mush he was waiting for an out-of-state power company to come work on our lines.
At last they arrived! I phoned neighbors at work.
From the neighbors’ driveway, we watched the action.
At last, the man in the bucket lowered himself. “The power will be on momentarily,” he said.
Mr. Mush met me in the driveway to ask about our furnace hook-up. We walked up the driveway and saw My Guy in the barn. I yelled, “It will be on momentarily.” Above a bulb was lit.
“Look,” I exclaimed. “How is that on?”
“The power is on,” My Guy said with a smile.
The boys had to check it out after 186.5 hours without such.
Meanwhile, at the store, the line was long. Somehow, My Guy managed during all this time to meet the needs of customers, the needs of neighbors, and the needs of his family. And always with a grin.
Thank goodness our boys saw it as an adventure.
The list of thanks probably left someone out, but in the end we were all so grateful for the sense of community and neighbors helping neighbors.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the Ice Storm of ’98 Cameth and we were afraid that it would never Leaveth, but it finally did.
I’ll let you in on a tad bit of a secret . . . eventually.
But first, today was a tracking day and so five of us did just that. When we arrived at the intended location, due to snow conditions, I think we had low expectations. I know I did.
We had just stepped off trail to begin our bushwhack excursion when we spotted this Ruffed Grouse scat. So the curious thing about this is that there are two kinds of grouse scat, the typical cylindrical packets coated with white uric acid, but also a juicier, brown dropping. And I regret that I didn’t take a photo of the juicier, yet slightly frozen stuff we saw dripping from some twigs above. At the time, I knew the brown stuff was significant because I’ve looked it up before, but couldn’t bring it to mind. Thanks to Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks, I found an explanation in Bird Tracks and Sign: “Interestingly, after producing these lower-gut-generated solid evacuations, some game birds, such as a grouse, often then evacuate a semi-liquid brownish mass from the upper gut, or cecum, with the two types of droppings coming out sequentially; the more liquid, almost liver-colored scat comes out second and is spread on top of the solid matter. In Ruffed Grouse, it is common to find the hard, fibrous scats at one roost and the soft, brown cecal droppings at another.”
But not uncommon to find them together!
We stood for a long time discussing the grouse scat and when we finally moved on, it wasn’t too far that we discovered bobcat prints. Given that the prints were not super fresh because there was some debris in them, we decided to follow the track forward. Had they been fresh, we would have backtracked so as not to put pressure on the animal. Though secretly, we all love it when we do actually get to spot a mammal. Or a grouse, for that matter.
Eventually, we lost track of the bobcat, because as you can see, there were spots with no snow. But then we stumbled across a sighting that confused us. White-tail Deer scat on the edge of a boulder. Dawn has some new tools she was gifted for Christmas, and so she was excited to pull them out. Our confusion, despite the fact that it looked exactly like deer scat, was caused by the location. On top of a boulder. On the edge of said rock. We came up with a few stories, but will let you try to interpret this on your own.
Back in the snow, we found canine rather than the feline prints we’d been looking for and so out came the tape measure to determine species. Based on the fact that the print measured less than two inches at the widest point and that the stride, or space between where two feet touched the snow (toe to toe), we determined it was a Red Fox.
Everywhere, we spotted Red Squirrel holes and middens, indicating the squirrel had cached a bunch of hemlock cones in numerous pantries and returned since the snow fell to dig them up and dine, leaving behind the cone cobs and scales in trash piles. What struck us was that for all the middens we saw, we never heard or caught sight of any squirrels. In fact, we didn’t see any animals . . . until we did. Huh? You’ll have to read on.
Our next great find close to the pond we walked beside, was more scat! Of course, it was. This being the works of a River Otter and filled with fish scales, all those whitish ovals embedded in it. Like a small pile of Raccoon scat we’d spotted earlier, but again, I forgot to photograph (the sign that we were having fun making all these discoveries), otters tend to defecate in latrines, using the same places over and over again.
Our movement was slow, and every once in a while we’d spread out until someone made a discovery and then we’d all gather again.
Which was exactly what happened when this Snowshoe Hare scat was discovered. Three little malt balls.
After the hare find, we followed a couple of canine trails that took us back to the water. Domestic dog or Coyote? We kept questioning this, but never saw human prints. And the animals did seem to be moving in a direct line on a mission. The warm weather we’ve been experiencing may have been enough to make their prints look larger than they typically would so I think I’m leaning toward Coyote.
But in following those, we discovered a sign from another critter by the water’s edge: Mink scat!
When our time was nearing an end and we bushwhacked back to a road near the trailhead, we were all exclaiming about our cool finds. And then a little birdie we encountered asked, “Do you want to see a bear?”
We don’t need to be asked that question twice, though now that I think back, I’m pretty sure we asked the birdie to repeat the question. YES! She gave us directions and we decided we needed to take an immediate field trip. We each hopped into our vehicles, drove almost to the destination, parked, and walked as quietly as we could toward the den site.
We got us a bear! A Black Bear! The birdie said it has been there since sometime in December.
Now that I’ve shared it with you, I’ll say no more for the five of us are sworn to secrecy about its location.
A mountain on The Kanc (Kancamagus Highway, aka Route 112 that stretches from Conway to Lincoln, New Hampshire) has been calling our names for some time. We’ve hiked neighboring Hedgehog Mountain on several occasions, but never Potash–until today, that is.
Well, actually, that’s not true. We last hiked Hedgehog in early fall and after finishing thought we’d attempt Potash since the trail leads from the same parking lot. That is, until we met Downes Brook, which is about 35 feet wide and my brain-over-matter would not allow me to make the crossing. Another couple had arrived at the brook moments before us, and while both our guys ventured across the rocks, she and I thought it best not to go forth. And so it was today, knowing how much rain we’ve had recently, that we decided to follow the recommendation in the AMC guide and instead park near a gated logging road about a half mile beyond the trailhead lot. After hiking up the logging road, the intersection with the hiking trail isn’t marked and is very subtle, but we were grateful for people who had gone before and left their marks on the snow. Suddenly, we were in the woods and as we paused to look through the trees, the colors afforded us reminded us of spring. As they should, for today felt like a spring day. Actually, too many days have felt like such lately, so when it does freeze every few days, our bodies go into shock.
That spring feeling was evidenced by the lack of snow on the trail and lack of ice on the rocks. What should have been . . . wasn’t.
Even the streams along the way flowed with vigor and no ice had formed. Oh, it probably had, but then melted.
The trail starts out rather tame, but soon becomes rocky with lots of intersecting roots seeking to trip hikers.
Until I looked at the map, I thought we’d reached the summit in good time, only to realize it was a false summit, as so often happens. And we were only at the halfway point.
This would have been a great place to eat lunch, if we hadn’t already done so before leaving the truck. We had visions of Orange KitKats dancing in our heads, but promised ourselves a summit treat and so we had to continue–but first, we waved to Hedgehog Mountain in the foreground.
This photo doesn’t do it justice, for the last section of trail to the summit gets quite steep following a series of already steep switchbacks, and then one has to scramble over granite slabs.
We met the wind at the summit and the swirls in the snow showed that’s always the case. It was time to celebrate with a KitKat or two. Oops. We searched through the backpack and came up empty. Somehow we’d left them in the truck.
One quick look at the Sandwich Wilderness and then it was time to head down so we could reach the truck before darkness set in.
The descent was slow going, but that worked for me. Picking the right spot to place a foot always takes time.
Because I was spending so much time looking down and hugging trees as well as kissing some rocks, I spotted Cladonia squamosa, or Dragon Horn lichen.
Squamosa means covered in scales, which is apropos. And the brown tips are the reproductive parts or apothecia.
I also found some ice I’d missed on the way up. While it made me happy, I still am dismayed by the current conditions.
Here’s another curious thing. We spotted numerous Red Squirrel caches and middens, mostly of spruce cones. And then I spied this Ruffed Grouse scat, indicating the bird had roosted in this spot not too long ago. But other than hearing a few nuthatches, wild critter sign was non-existent. I can walk into the woods behind our home and find much more than this–why is that?
I pondered that thought as we once again turned onto the logging road, and hoped that a mammal would surprise us as we walked, out, but because I was expecting such, it didn’t happen.
Ah well, it was okay. In the end, My Guy and I were delighted we’d enjoyed this First Day Substitute Mondate. First Day Substitute? Whoever heard of that? But I guess that’s what the Monday following a holiday is called.
Oh, and we did gobble up the KitKats when we reached the truck. They tasted extra special.
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